Last stand for final Cup candidates

NORTON, Mass. -- Corey Pavin won't yet admit this -- and why should he, really? -- but three of his four captain's selections are already set in stone.

Though the official announcement won't be made until Tuesday, there's little doubt that Tiger Woods, Zach Johnson and Stewart Cink have already earned their way onto the United States Ryder Cup roster.

Can't fault Pavin for any of those picks. Each is a major champion who would provide previous experience on a squad that already boasts four rookies.

Now comes the hard part.

Unlike his counterpart Colin Montgomerie, who was roundly lambasted for failing to include both a top-10 player and a two-time 2010 winner on his roster, Pavin will have neither such a luxury nor the headache.

Quite frankly, his fourth and final pick will come from a list that goes probably 10 deep. With little separating the candidates entering the final tournament before selections are announced on Tuesday, here's an idea: lowest score wins.

That's right. Pavin should use the Deutsche Bank Championship as a de facto qualifier, with each of these potential team members competing for a berth in the lineup.

Hey, if a play-your-way-in process is good enough for two of the four major championships, the notion can work here, too. More importantly, what better way to judge the inner resolve of a player for such grueling competition than to make him earn his way onto the team with an extra-large dose of pressure?

"Obviously, a win could help, or a good finish," said Rickie Fowler, hoping to become the team's youngest member, at 21. "But you know, a missed cut here and it's [no different than] missing the cut two weeks ago."

It should be, though. Even though the points format ended three weeks ago and the captain is free to pick anyone he chooses, the final event prior to the announcement should serve more vital to the decision-making process than any others.

Such importance should be instilled in the candidates, too.

Line 'em up and you'll find an assortment of players whom a stamp collector might consider in very good or near-mint condition. Which is to say, each is valuable, but none is without fault.

There's Anthony Kim, the uber-talented youngster who has struggled since returning from thumb surgery. There's Lucas Glover, last year's U.S. Open champion who hasn't won since. There's Fowler, a world-class rookie who hasn't posted a top-10 since early June. There's J.B. Holmes, a big bomber who thrived two years ago at Valhalla, but who might be a bit of a one-trick pony.

Need more? Well, there are plenty. The list also includes Bo Van Pelt, Ben Crane, Nick Watney, Sean O'Hair, Ricky Barnes and Ryan Palmer, each of whom has appeared brilliant at times this season, none of whom has ever competed in the Ryder Cup pressure cooker before.

Though Pavin likely didn't refer to the upcoming tournament as an all-or-nothing opportunity, he is on site this week for an up-close-and-personal peek at his potential players. And each one is very aware of what he needs to accomplish in order to impress the captain. There's a common refrain you'll hear, from those hoping to ascend into the elite of the World Ranking to those simply trying to avoid losing status.

Play better.

"Good play speaks for itself," O'Hair said. "I'm not the type who is going to go up to Corey and try to talk him into picking me. It's just not my personality. If he feels I can help the team, I'm sure he'll pick me. But if he doesn't feel that way, there are a lot of other good players who are right there. I'm just going to try to play well this week and let it take care of itself."

With likely only one spot up for grabs at TPC-Boston, we'll find out how these players can handle pressure with a Ryder Cup berth on the line. The top candidate on the leaderboard might not clinch a place on the roster, but the idea of using this tournament as a qualifier certainly has its merits.

Jason Sobel is a golf writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn.com.